In a bid to intensify COVID-19 response measures, the Philippine government designated anti-COVID czars to lead each of the components of the government’s COVID-19 strategy, which are testing, tracing, isolation, and treatment.
In his July 13 press briefing in Malacañan, Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque, Jr. introduced the four anti-COVID czars, namely, Secretary Vivencio “Vince” Dizon as Chief Testing Czar, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong as Chief Tracing Czar, Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar as Chief Isolation Czar, and Health Undersecretary Leopoldo “Bong” Vega as Chief Treatment Czar. All four anti-COVID czars will be directly under the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) led by Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.
“Ang ating stratehiya sa matinding pagsubok ng COVID-19: mas malawakang targeted testing, mas maraming isolation centers, mas matinding tracing, at mas matinding treatment para sa mga nagkakasakit. Lahat po yan sa ilalim ng NTF, sa ilalim ng ating Chief Implementer Secretary Galvez,” said Secretary Roque.
The Palace official said that the government recognizes the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country and assured the public that the situation can be controlled.
The Palace’s spokesperson and concurrent spokesman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases said: “Hindi lang po tayo nag-iisa rito. Sa nakaraan na anim na linggo, dumoble po ang kaso sa iba’t ibang parte ng mundo, ayon sa World Health Organization.
“Quoting media reports of WHO Chief Tedros, sinabi po nya, ‘There are many examples from around the world that have shown that even if the outbreak is intense, it can still be brought back under control,’” said Sec Roque.
To bring COVID-19 back under control is the main reason for the designation of the anti-COVID czars, each of whom presented the current status of each of the government’s COVID-19 strategy in the said press briefing.
NTF Chief Implementer Sec Galvez presented the Phase II of the National Action Plan on COVID-19 that aims to contain and manage emerging new cases, sustain gains and continue capacity building and resiliency, rebalance health and economy, localize response, and keep fatality rate low. Sec. Galvez also stressed that to effectively manage COVID-19, more of the responsibility will have to shift to the local government agencies (LGUs), private companies, and the individual citizen.
In terms of testing, Chief Testing Czar Secretary Dizon reported that there are now 85 COVID-19 laboratories nationwide, nearly 1 million tests (978,651) done as of July 11, and 25,000 daily tests as of July 9, nearing the 30,000 daily tests target by end of the month. Sec. Dizon added that daily tests in the National Capital Region (NCR) has doubled since June to 16,505 as of July 9, with the expanded community testing being done in the NCR through the various mega swabbing facilities.
For tracing, Mayor Magalong who is now Chief Tracing Czar will be focusing on intensifying skills training for contact tracers and using a contact tracing e-system composed of a COVID-19 data collection tool, a GIS (geographical information system) platform, and a Link Analysis Tool. The Baguio City Mayor also stressed the need to radically change the contact tracing structure that will include interviewees—the health workers and investigators, and other members of the tracing team including analysts, encoders, technical support, and community support teams or the Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams or BHERTs.
For his part, Chief Isolation Czar Secretary Villar gave an update on the quarantine facilities, reporting that there are 52, 223 available isolation beds in Ligtas COVID Centers (local isolation facilities), while there are 3,193 isolation beds in We Heal As One Mega Ligtas Centers. Sec. Villar also said that they plan to construct more quarantine facilities nationwide. Aside from the existing 129 regional evacuation centers, they are also building quarantine facilities in Region 7 (11), Region 8 (16), Region 10 (20), and in Region 12 (3).
In terms of the treatment strategy, newly appointed Undersecretary of Health Dr. Vega talked about the One Hospital Command which will be in charge of both public and private hospitals and quarantine facilities in terms of planning healthcare capacity among others. Usec Vega stressed that among the immediate steps that the Department of Health will focus on is to expand hospital capacity by increasing COVID-19 bed allocations, provide additional health care personnel even for private hospitals, and provide supply augmentation for all private and public hospitals. ### OPS-PCOO